Samir’s Selection 05/21/2015 (p.m.)

  • Adam Gopnik lists four types of opinion pieces he won’t read, and explains what he finds problematic about them.One of the consequences of the information revolution, or the digital transformation, or whatever we’re calling it these days, is the sheer amount of punditry on tap. Despite talk of the Internet as a site of quickly glimpsed imagery and viral cat videos, a solid core of old-fashioned moralizing, even sermonizing, punditry is part of the daily burden it presents. Everyman and everywoman supplied with a keyboard has become a sapient op-ed opiner and obligated reader. In a grumpy midnight mood, this too-frequent pundit made a list of the kinds of pieces that he will, in the future, avoid, having doubtless produced one or two in each category himself, in order to get back to reading Knausgaard.1. Any piece about a sudden new national crisis of confidence, our precipitously plunging morale, or America finding itself at a unique crossroads…. To turn these vagaries into some kind of fixed and significant national “mood” is unfailingly fatuous. In modern countries, we should be able to talk rationally of real problems-growing inequality, urban unrest, the plague of incarceration, climate change-without imagining that a collective emotion is sweeping through a wildly differentiated people. It is a libel on the human imagination, and on the truths that novels and stories provide us with every day, to imagine that. There were people exuberant with joy, for their own domestic or romantic reasons, during the London Blitz and after 9/11. Mood and feeling are as variable as the last kiss we got. Indeed, the enforcement of collective emotion is the essence of totalitarianism. We should give it up.2. Any piece about how all of France has adopted some custom or cultural more of ours or that urges all of us to adopt some French custom or cultural more….Cultures come at us whole. That is the beauty and terror of them. We should study them because they’re beautiful, and instructive in the endless, necessary human lesson that Others exist-not because they can be disaggregated like albums on iTunes, with one song or another put on our own playlists.3. Any piece assigning credit for something to the person or politician who happened to be around to get the credit, while missing the reality that it was an earlier politician or administration who actually did it….Life, including social life, never moves in neat four-year or eight-year units. Causes are like roots, deep-planted, and the results that bloom are, like flowers, often misleadingly flashy in ways that enslave pollinating pundits.4. Any piece arguing that a momentarily popular movie or television series completely explains-or, worse, has inspired-a new or current political trend…Clint Eastwood movies were popular in the early seventies because people were frightened of crime and had vengeance fantasies, however ugly, that were acted out by Dirty Harry. “Mad Men” holds our imagination in some real part because of our natural nostalgia for things that happened thirty, forty, or fifty years ago, but mostly because of the actors and the writing-not because of some previously hidden urge to drink hard liquor in the afternoon or because we secretly want to harass women, as all the show’s imitators will soon find out. The success of a genre piece in its time tends to have more to do with the genre than with the time…All these objections, I see, have a common core, and it is that the general and specific never move in neat unison together… It is the vice of the journalist, I once wrote, to think that history can always be reduced to experience, and of the scholar to think that experience can always be reduced to history. History and experience are far more frequently out of sync, or running on parallel tracks.

    tags: AdamGopnik culture commentary journalism punditry reductionism quote badjournalism nostalgia genre history error

  • tags: NicholasCarr computing automation algorithm humanity imagination creativity expertise paradox error behaviouraleconomics bias automationparadox

    • “HUMAN BEINGS are ashamed to have been born instead of made,” wrote the philosopher Günther Anders in 1956. Our shame has only deepened as our machines have grown more adept.
    • Computers are wonderful at following instructions, but they’re terrible at improvisation. Their talents end at the limits of their programming.
    • While our flaws loom large in our thoughts, we view computers as infallible. Their scripted consistency presents an ideal of perfection far removed from our own clumsiness. What we forget is that our machines are built by our own hands. When we transfer work to a machine, we don’t eliminate human agency and its potential for error. We transfer that agency into the machine’s workings, where it lies concealed until something goes awry.
    • Computers break down. They have bugs. They get hacked. And when let loose in the world, they face situations that their programmers didn’t prepare them for. They work perfectly until they don’t.
    • the automation paradox. Software designed to eliminate human error sometimes makes human error more likely. When a computer takes over a job, the workers are left with little to do. Their attention drifts. Their skills, lacking exercise, atrophy. Then, when the computer fails, the humans flounder.
    • The danger in dreaming of a perfectly automated society is that it makes such modest improvements seem less pressing — and less worthy of investment. Why bother taking small steps forward, if utopia lies just around the bend?

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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